Enhancing Intimacy: The Art of Listening

“Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival – to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.” (Steven Covey)

Most of us agree that good communication is essential for healthy relationships. However, when we think of communication, we often focus what we want to say, rather than the quality of attention we can offer the other person. Stephen Covey, author of the best-seller The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, lists “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood” as Habit 5, and states that when we practice empathic listening, we are giving the other person “psychological air”, the priceless gift of being accepted, and help in clarifying what they're really feeling, thinking, experiencing, and needing.

Some hints for effective listening:


Creating Meaning In Your Life

“He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” (Friedrich Nietzsche)
When we’re immersed in depression or anxiety, finding some semblance of happiness or purpose in life can feel almost impossible. Depression makes even the smallest task feel like a monumental effort, and anxiety tends to make us run from or avoid people and experiences.

Our self-confidence decreases, as we tend to forget that at one time we were functioning more effectively. Our shrinking back from life makes our world smaller, and we lose touch with those things that gave our existence meaning. Without meaning, we are more prone to chronic anxiety and depression – it’s a vicious cycle.

Even if we're doing fairly well at the moment, we may still be haunted at times by the sense that we're drifting somewhat aimlessly. So, how do we increase our sense of meaning and purpose?


Fish Oil and Your Brain

According to a study published in the January 22, 2014 on-line edition of the journal Neurology, the higher the level of fish oils in your blood, the larger your brain volume is likely to be, implying that such oils may slow down the loss of brain cells as you age.

The study team assessed the level of the marine omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA in the red blood cells of over 1,000 post-menopausal women. Eight years later, the women’s brain volumes were measured using MRI scans. The average age of the participants was 78 at the time of the brain scans.

Study subjects with omega-3 levels twice (7.5 percent) as high as those in the lowest range demonstrated a 0.7 percent higher brain volume. In addition, higher levels of omega-3 were associated with greater (2.7 percent) hippocampal volume. The hippocampus is the area of the brain first ravaged by the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. 


What You May Not Know About Mindfulness

Everywhere we turn these days, there seems to be another article extolling the benefits of mindfulness, and with good reason. Adopting a regular mindfulness practice can help treat:

substance abuse
obsessive-compulsive disorder
eating disorders such as bulimia, compulsive overeating, and anorexia
emotional volatility
high blood pressure
chronic pain
gastrointestinal difficulties

However, a number of misconceptions about mindfulness are also floating around, such as the following:

Mindfulness is simply chilling out. No. As Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course puts it, “Mindfulness is not relaxation spelled differently”. While mindfulness may eventually result in relaxation, along with some or all of the above listed advantages, mindfulness does this through a circuitous route. Mindfulness involves staying with our present experience, whether it is blissful or painful, without passing judgment. The MBSR course was initially developed to aid patients with chronic physical or mental health conditions, from back pain and fibromyalgia, to generalized anxiety. The title of Kabat-Zinn’s book, Full Catastrophe Living, states it well – mindfulness is engaging fully in whatever is going on at the current moment – being attentive and curious rather than trying to change one’s experience. Kabat-Zinn recognized this in his own life while pacing the floors of his home in the middle of the night with one of his newborn babies – mindfulness is waking up to the “full catastrophe” (a phrase originally uttered by Zorba the Greek).


Martin Luther King Jr. on Dreams, Love, and Perseverance

MLK, a pastor, humanitarian, and leader in the 1960s American civil rights movement, famously employed a nonviolent approach in his battle for racial and economic justice. Fifty years after Dr. King’s untimely death at age 39 by the hand of an assassin, his significant impact on our country’s social, racial, and spiritual terrain lives on… and his words are as pertinent today as ever.

This principle could apply to people’s weight, height, gender, age, job, financial status, or other external features. Take stock of what's on the inside, and never consider yourself (or others) incapable of being useful. Dr. King also stated, "Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”


Stress, Brain Changes, and Depression

You probably already know at an intuitive level that after feeling anxious and stressed for awhile, your mood tends to dip a bit. Maybe you’re just mildly dejected, or perhaps you develop a full-fledged depression. Unfortunately, it can get worse, assuming that what holds true for mice holds true for humans -- if you've been traumatized, your brain can actually go through significant hormonal changes that can plummet you into a chemical depression for months -- leaving you to hang on to faith that you've eventually feel better, at a time when faith is probably the last thing you're likely to experience.

Researchers at the University of Washington have recently discovered that a neuropeptide called corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), which under normal conditions helps the brain to release dopamine, a hormone associated with pleasurable sensations, loses this ability under stressful conditions, for over three months. That’s a long time. 


How to Spot an Addiction and Get Help

There are few topics as loaded as addiction – especially if you’re talking with someone (perhaps yourself) who’s struggling with an unhealthy attachment to a substance (such as alcohol, drugs, or food) or behavior (gambling, sex, or shoplifting). We generally don’t like to feel as if we’re in the grips of a behavior that we can’t control.

Not to minimize the potentially devastating effect of addiction, but it’s possible that at times this term is tossed about too loosely in our society. People talk about being “addicted” to chocolate or exercise, for instance, when they may merely be referring to a preference of theirs that harms nobody and is perhaps beneficial – but how to know when one crosses the line?


Finding Balance During the Holidays

While the holidays can be a joyous time of year, they can often increase stress for many people. How do we enjoy a meaningful holiday season, rather than trying to meet other people’s or society’s expectations?

How do we cope with missing people and holiday rituals from past years that are no longer in our lives? How can we find peace during this season that is so often anything but peaceful?


What do the holidays mean to you?

What have been some of your most cherished holiday memories from past holiday seasons?

What are you most thankful for? 

What would you most like to remember, looking back on this holiday season?

In what small way can you move forward to creating such memories? In what ways are you already doing so?


Nelson Mandela’s Words of Wisdom about Resilience

Do you ever feel as if life has dealt you a bad hand? Do you feel trapped by seemingly insurmountable challenges? How do you pull yourself out of the mire and get back on your feet?

Imagine this: You have been sentenced to life imprisonment. Your jail cell is eight feet by seven feet in size. You are only allowed to write one letter and receive one visit from the outside world every six months. Such was the predicament in which Nelson Mandela found himself at age 46.

How did Mandela survive emotionally as well as physically and go on to become the first black president of South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize winner? Although by the time he was 70 he had spent over one third of his life in prison for his anti-apartheid activities, he retained his friendly, polite, and relaxed demeanor while continuing his humanitarian efforts in the face of formidable opposition.

How was this possible? And how can we follow his example in our own life?


What To Do If You Don’t Feel Grateful

We all hear a lot about the benefits of giving thanks, especially during the holiday season. Indeed, people who express gratitude tend to be happier, healthier, and more able to cope with life in general.

However, sometimes we just don’t feel grateful, and all of the advice about giving thanks just irritates us. How do we cope?

It can help to realize that:

It’s okay not to always feel grateful.